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Pastor McConnell defence team 'inundated with witnesses' who want to give evidence, court told

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 03/09/2015

Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates Court with the DUP's Sammy Wilson
Picture Colm O'Reilly/Presseye
Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates Court with the DUP's Sammy Wilson Picture Colm O'Reilly/Presseye
Pastor James McConnell appeared in court on charges relating to the internet broadcast of a sermon he gave at a Belfast church last year. Picture Matt Bohill Pacemaker.
Pastor James McConnell, the evangelical preacher who called Islam "satanic" and "heathen", appears at Belfast Magistrates Court. Picture Colm O'Reilly/Presseye
Pastor James McConnell outside Belfast Magistrates' Court with the DUP's Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson. Picture Colm O'Reilly/Presseye

Pastor James McConnell's defence team say he has been "inundated" with people wanting to give evidence in court on behalf of the controversial preacher.

Paul Dougan, who is defending the pastor over charges linked to his anti-Islamic sermon, told Belfast Magistrates' Court today there was "huge interest" in the case.

"We have been inundated with scores of potential witnesses who wish to give evidence on behalf of Pastor McConnell," he said.

Several hundred supporters gathered inside and outside the court, including two Democratic Unionist MPs, for this morning's brief hearing.

McConnell is facing charges over remarks made in an internet-broadcast sermon he delivered at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in North Belfast on May 18 last year.

At the time he issued a public apology for any offence caused. But he was then questioned by police and told he would be prosecuted over the comments.

The pastor is accused of  improper use of a public electronic communications network, and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.

In the sermon, he said "a new evil had arisen" and "there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain".

"Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell," he said.

This morning's brief hearing was told the 78-year-old would be contesting the charges, and the case was likely to run for five days.

The case was adjourned to October 1.

McConnell's solicitor Joe Rice said they were still considering lodging an abuse of process application - a legal mechanism to have the case thrown out.

As he left the courtroom, McConnell was clapped and cheered by supporters who broke into hymn-singing.

Outside, more people waving banners applauded him loudly.

He said he was looking forward to taking to the stand and launched a fresh attack on the decision to prosecute him.

Speaking outside the courthouse, McConnell branded the case "a travesty" and revealed he has had two death threats in recent months.

"It will be my day in court - am I going to come here and say nothing? No way," he said.

He added: "I will stand firm on the Gospel. I will not relent one inch."

Asked what he would say, he replied: "I will tell them that I love the Lord Jesus Christ, and I love him with all my heart and I want to serve him with all my heart."

He added: "The prosecution are extremely disappointing - this is the second time they have brought me to court and now they want me back on October 1," he said.

"They haven't done their homework well, they are on the run and we're going to win."

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